William Hone was an English radical writer and publisher active in the early decades of the 19th century. In partnership with illustrator and cartoonist George Cruikshank, Hone published a number of political squibs in the 1810s and 1820s, most of which aimed to highlight the abuses of political office. Hone drew the attention of the government for his apparently seditious words and in 1817 appeared at the Guildhall in London charged with three counts of libel. Through a masterly display of self-defence Hone was acquitted of all charges, much to the delight of the general public. Hone demolished the government’s prosecution by claiming that his work was a simple parody. Today Hone is considered to be one of the first great champions of a free press.

Shown here is a page from Hone and Cruikshank’s A Slap At Slop, a short news sheet published in 1821 across a number of issues that parodied the work of John Stoddard, publisher of The Times and The New Times. The sheet lampoons Stoddard’s bombastic style and covers several topical subjects, most notably the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. The ‘massacre’ occurred following a meeting at St Peter’s Field in Manchester, organised to protest against economic hardship and to support parliamentary reform; an event that attracted a crowd of 80,000 people. Fearing unrest, magistrates ordered cavalry officers to break up the meeting and to arrest the organisers. Mounted officers entered the area with their sabres drawn and hacked their way through the crowd, killing ten to twenty people and injuring several hundred more. The event proved shocking to reformers such as Hone and generated a substantial body of criticism of the government over subsequent months and years.